Saturday 27 November 2010

Mapping Woes: Any Ideas?

My output of rules and game theory ideas has been slowing down as real life increases its demands, and Actual Play (TM) also puts requirements on my time. The hope is that the experience proves a testing ground for the theory, anyway.

One pragmatic problem that's come up is what to use for dungeon and campaign mapping - with the aim of producing not just something useable, but something that can be shared and shown out with a fair amount of pride. My original maps for the Cellars of the Castle Ruins, which I was running over the summer, were done using the freeware program AutoRealm. However, while richly supplied with graphic elements like stairs, rubble, jagged lines, and doors, AutoRealm consistently showed problems with maintaining line thickness at various resolutions. Perhaps combined with this, snapping to the graph paper grid was often a little bit off, and the map's shapes would shift around no matter how much I fiddled with it. The upshot of all this was that AR wouldn't produce a production-ready graphic that I was happy with, though the rough and ready map was fine for running sessions from.

For the Trossley campaign I experimented with mapping a few key sites in PowerPoint. Although it's a fairly good object-oriented program that allows a grid and approximation to graph paper, it's harder to get one's hands on the requisite shapes for mapping. I may have to hack together some stair, door and window icons for cutting and pasting. All the same, I'm confident that Powerpoint will serve my needs in the short term, even though the maps do look a little pedestrian.

What's the consensus out there - do I really need to put down cash for Campaign Cartographer or the like to get decent looking dungeon maps? Note that tile-based programs are right out for my rather geometrically convoluted architectures, though my modest need for outdoor mapping so far is handled decently by Hexographer.


  1. I use Campaign Cartographer, it took a few hours to get the hang of it, but once I did, it's very quick to put together a dungeon. The most time-consuming part is putting a "background" together to hide the grid lines, you have to copy the entire dungeon outline, "split" lines at intersections, and then make "multipolies" to create a filled-in "negative dungeon space".

    I'm only on CC2, CC3 may have made that process easier.

    I couldn't deal with tile-based, I like my caverns and circles.

  2. I know its probably far more expensive and probably has a much higher learning curve, but Adobe Illustrator is what I use. If you are willing to fork over the dough and put in the time, Illustrator is extremely powerful and allows a tremendous amount of freedom for creativity when making maps. Once you get a template figured out, the sky is the limit.

  3. Well, you may use Inkscape instead of Illustrator, which is free. Otherwise Gimp is the way to go; consider that for the same price of a Hexographer license you can buy an entry level Wacom and draw just like on paper, but waaay better. There are some great tutorials on Cartographers Guild, just check them out.

  4. My advice is worry less about map and more about the description of what's on the map. Remember, only the DM gets to see it - it serves absolutely no purpose to have elegant dungeon maps beyond perhaps inspiring a DM who didn't write the adventure! For clarification, see the odd snapshot of Gary's Greyhawk dungeons - a random looking collection of boxes and lines - it was the descriptions he gave that made the dungeons magic :)

  5. Gimp (or other image editing software) can do the job nicely if you want to draw up you dungeons on a computer.
    I've been using Photoshop (I use it professionally otherwise I'd be using Gimp
    ), geomorphs, scribbling on paper and a cheap scanner myself.

  6. Thanks for the comments and good suggestions, folks. I have indeed tried GIMP, but the layers turn out to be too fiddly for my taste; I'm never really sure where new graphic elements stand. And of course, for my own uses I get along very well with whatever I scrawl down - but I want to see if I can't put my ideas down for the first time in a format that will look good without need for re-copying, or at least that can be elaborated on later.

    My main need right now, be it GIMP or Powerpoint, are a few pre-set shapes corresponding to the classic door, stair, pit, statue and so on. Maybe I'll work out how to create them in PPT... either that or get myself CC for Christmas ...